Ottawa County’s workforce shortage puts more attention on training

With an unemployment rate under 3%, Ottawa County has one of the lowest in the state. As a result, employers are responding in creative ways to address retention and recruitment. We asked Allise Wilkerson, talent solutions manager for West Michigan Works! about the opportunities the talent shortage is creating for workers.

What are some of the creative ways employers are addressing the labor shortage?

A lot of employers are investing in training for their employees. There’s been an increase in apprenticeships and working with different training providers, like Grand Rapids Community College and M-TEC, to upskill current employees so they can advance to higher positions. Tuition reimbursement, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training programs can be a big draw for people because education can be expensive. Not everybody has the ability to take out loans or pay for it out of pocket. Offering access to training and career pathways also sends a message to current and potential employees that they have the opportunity to grow in the organization.

How is West Michigan Works! bridging the skills gap?

We are able to help support job seekers in any stage of their career path. We may assist people with removing barriers to employment or training opportunities, creating a career plan, or putting together a resume and improving their interview skills. We provide coaching to help someone develop a career plan and then work with them to reach their goals. Our Business Solutions Team works directly with employers to help them meet their workforce needs, which can include training either current employees or job candidates. We can provide assistance with support through an on-the-job training program to get the applicant the skills they need for that job. 

Where are you seeing the biggest need right now for Ottawa County employers? 

We are seeing the biggest demand for the following:
  • Entry-level healthcare positions, such as Certified Nurse Assistant and medical assistant.
  • The transportation industry, for drivers with commercial driver’s licenses.
  • Entry- and mid-level in manufacturing, from assembly to machine operator.
  • The construction trades, especially for electrical and HVAC.
  • Positions in Information Technology (IT)
Is there a limit to the training? 

We begin by assessing what skills are needed for the occupation and then what training the job seeker needs. We usually work in partnership with training providers like GRCC and M-TEC to assist both job seekers and employers who are in need of workforce training. There are scholarships available for people who meet eligibility requirements and for whom the career is a good fit. If people wanted to find out about career pathways and job training, Michigan Works! is a great place to start. We have an understanding of where the needs are. It’s a one-stop place for employers or people looking for jobs to come and see what is available and where their opportunities are. 

How is the tight labor market impacting wages and compensation?

Wages are rising because people are moving to new jobs for even a 25 cents an hour pay increase. We've seen wages in some industries increase to more than $15 an hour for entry-level because it is so competitive to find the talent. There's also been an expanded focus on additional benefits, perks, flexibility, and just getting the word out about company culture. companies are talking more about work-life balance and flexible work schedules. Some employers are responding by moving to non-traditional work schedules, which can include longer shifts but having more days off.

Photo courtesy West Michigan Works!

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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